Michael Jackson Didn’t Have a Pine Box, or If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.

I spent about 3 hours in my car on June 26th, attending one last meeting before my vacation started. I had my radio tuned to NPR as usual, and all I heard was speculation on the death of Michael Jackson. Was it pills? Was it a bad heart? Should someone have been paying more attention?

I was upset, but not because of Michael.

I was missing a funeral.

And it wasn’t at a stadium filled with people, with tributes from many, including the influential and the offspring. It was not the outpouring of love and devotion that filled L.A. yesterday.

It was a box, chucked into a grave, with a few words and fewer people.

She was 32, less than a year older than me, and we were born and grew up in the same town. We went to the same elementary school. Our parents knew each other and our grandparents knew each other. Possibly our great-grandparents did.

Her father found her that Wednesday, the day before Michael died. Found her. As in – she was already dead and he went to check on her and there was no doubt she was gone. How long had she been dead? Dunno – a couple of days maybe. My dad was one of the first medics on the scene, along with the local Baptist preacher who is also a member of the fire department.

32 years old. Dead. Alone. Nobody knew.

Both of her boys had been taken away from her after she attempted suicide a couple of years ago. Her mother died several years before that. Everyone in town knew she was addicted to pain pills – shoot, she had even asked me if my dad had any in the house the last time I saw her 4 years ago. I was relieved to be able to say that he didn’t.

Rumor is her doctor gave her a month’s supply of pain pills on Friday the 19th but there were only 5 left in the bottle by Monday the 22nd. Who knew that? I don’t know. It’s come to me through the mysterious byways of “they say….”.

I wish I did know who knew that, so that I could half-drown them in a bucket of water until they gave me a good explanation about why they didn’t think it important to mention it until after she was dead, then throw it out to the town like carrion that the half-starved gossipy vultures can strip from the bone and swallow.

Rumor is she was seeing one of the —- boys, but she had called him up that weekend and told him not to come down and see her again unless he brought either money or pills with him.

Vultures eat the dead. We eat the stories of the dead.

Funerals are BIG deals where I come from. We do them right, too – two days minimum of sorrow and remembrance. The wake the night before, the funeral and burial the next day, lunch served to the family at the church afterwards. People bring food to the family for days -more than they can eat sometimes, but the family is grateful for every dish. And the flowers – beautiful, soothing, bright, yet solemn – the heavy perfume fills the funeral home and later wafts across the graves as the coffin is lowered into the ground and the last prayers are uttered aloud. The family sits around and reads the cards on the flowers after lunch, telling each other who sent what, why the sender is so special, and writing thank you cards.

Everyone goes to the services. Granny always says, “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.” At my grandfather’s wake last year, the line to view the coffin and greet the family wound through, outside, and around the corner of the funeral home and took at least an hour to get through. The procession to the family gravesite had an escort of deputies so that all the cars could get through the stoplights and the crossroads without getting seperated. Where I come from, you pull over on the side of the road when you meet a funeral procession.

We do them right. If you aren’t there in body, you better be there in spirit – as shown by the flowers, the food, or the memorial donation you sent.

Micheal got a stadium, a “star-studded” memorial, about 1400 cops, 17500 fans attending from a lottery of 1.6 million who wanted to go, and gatherings and moments of silence across the world. What a moving send-off.

When my mom told me she had been found dead that morning, the first thing I had to ask (it’s the way these conversations are scripted) was “Have you heard anything about the arrangements?” Not yet.

The next day, Granny mentioned she had seen the death notice in the newspaper. “Does it say where to send flowers or when the wake will be?” “Not that I can recall…I don’t think there is any money for a lot of that.”

That night I called my dad, desperate because I knew that time was getting short, even if she did have an autopsy. And I thought, well, maybe instead of flowers, I can donate towards the funeral. Dad, of course, knew what was going on.

No wake. No flowers. No donation. No money. “Look,” Dad said, and I could hear the pain in his voice. “It’s gonna be basically like a pine box, dropped in the ground. I don’t know if they can even afford the embalming fluid, you understand?”

So I missed the funeral, gave no tribute, wouldn’t have been welcome anyway. When times get hard, families contract inward and take care of their own, even if they fight while they’re doing it. And some people have less family than others.

I could go on and on and on about people abusing prescription pills, doctors passing out prescriptions like candy, and people watching their neighbors self-destruct while gossiping and gossiping and doing nothing. I’ve seen it so much, from my family to my friends. And I know, from first-hand experiences (note the plural), that you can’t always stop someone who can’t see through the fog of her own self-delusion – especially when she is taking pills that by definition dull pain, desensitize the emotions, and fog rational thinking.

I’ve been unplugged for over a week while I enjoyed my family and appreciated the time I have to spend with them. I don’t know what was finally decided about Michael’s use of prescription medication. I don’t really want to know – although I bought his record when I was 5 and grew up with his music, what he did in his life is really none of my business. In my life, to mutilate an old Russian peasant proverb, God was in his heaven and Michael was far away. I feel for his family and friends, yes, but he had nothing to do with my life.

But she – she did. Even if it was from a distance for the last 15 years. She had been someone I liked, I played with and joked with, I envied for her beauty and her brightness and her way of lighting up any conversation. She had carried energy around with her and no one could be around her without picking some of it up.

Why did she want to blunt all that, and why did anyone let her?

And why, why could she have nothing more than a pine box and a hole in the ground?


~ by gypsyjonga on July 8, 2009.

One Response to “Michael Jackson Didn’t Have a Pine Box, or If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”

  1. Now she has a pine box, a hole in the ground, and a moving tribute to some of the beauty of her life. I think it may be better than the donations nobody would have appreciated.

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